September 28, 2022 3 min read
The Flyers kicked off their pre-season play with a 2-1 win over Boston. It means little, as the first of six preseason games. The season officially gets underway on Oct 13 when the Flyers host the Devils at the Wells Fargo Center.
Flyers fans have mixed outlooks on the season ahead, but for the most part, there isn’t a lot of optimism. I asked one young fan, who also happens to be my 16-year-old son, what he thought. “We’re going to suck.” He may be right. The Flyers are 30th overall in the NHL preseason power rankings. Injuries to top-line center Sean Couturier (back injury) and top-pairing defenseman Ryan Ellis (hip injury) top the list of problems for GM Chuck Fletcher.
Another lingering question surrounds the goaltending. One of the big issues surrounding this team the last two years is the lack of good goaltending. Granted, a poor defense has been a big factor, but Carter Hart has yet to become the superstar he was predicted to be when arriving on the scene four years ago. Let’s take a look at his overall progress.
As a 20-year old rookie, Hart created quite the buzz when he stepped on the ice in 2018. He won eight straight games, tying the NHL record for most consecutive victories by a goalie before his 21st birthday. He was named NHL Rookie of the Month in January 2019 after he went 6-2-1 with a 2.33 goals-against average and .931 save percentage in nine January starts. Over that span, he led the NHL in saves with 283. The excitement Hart brought to the team led the greatest Flyers goalie of all time, Bernie Parent, to proclaim, “The Flyers are going to win the cup with him.”
Carter Hart continued to impress. He was often referred to by hockey analysts as “mentally tough” and “mature beyond his years”. He suffered an abdominal injury part way through the season, but overall, his progress was notable and even impressive, but mostly just while playing at home.
At home: 20-3-2, 1.63 GAA, .945 save percentage
On the road: 4-10-1, 3.81 GAA, .857 save percentage
Veteran goaltender Brian Elliott made for a solid backup and helped make Hart’s road performance much less glaring. Hart showed signs of struggle when falling behind early, but that’s being nit-picky. Overall, he had a terrific sophomore season.
Hart’s third year in the league was a big drop-off from his first two very promising seasons. He went from 2.42 GAA in 2019-20 to a 3.67 GAA average in 2020-21. Rough, to say the least. Not much good to draw from this year and by the time it was all said and done, the enthusiasm fans had for the future of the franchise had dwindled greatly.
This was a rebound year. Not perfect, but much better than the downward spiral of the previous season. Hart lost his last five games before suffering a leg injury at the end of the season. Overall, he bounced back with a 3.16 GAA. Coaching changes and bad defense didn’t help him either. As broadstreethockey.com pointed out, “The Flyers ranked 28th in the NHL in regularized adjusted plus-minus (RAPM) expected goals against per 60 (xGA/60). In layman’s terms, they were one of the worst teams at allowing high-danger opportunities against, and it doesn’t help that they weren’t great at creating high-danger chances on the other end of the ice.” That poor defense speaks well to Hart’s progress last season. Despite the lack of protection in front of him, Hart lowered his GAA to 3.16 with a .905 save percentage. Hart’s biggest individual struggles came on the penalty kill. He started the year stronger than he finished, leaving some uncertainty going into the offseason.
Bleacherreport.com has Hart ranked as the 21st among all NHL goaltenders. As they point out, the hope is that new head coach John Tortorella’s brand of hockey will be well suited to Hart’s playing style, but Tortorella will have to get the defense cleaned up first.
Hart is also dealing with a lower-body injury that's keeping him sidelined for the first three preseason games, but he has returned to practice.
In a nutshell, all hope is not lost, but no longer is anyone expecting Hart to be the next coming of Bernie Parent.
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